So, my friend Maryann lost her husband (Bruce) in May. Over the summer, I started hatching a plan to get her away from home for the holidays. I spent a considerable amount of effort convincing her to spend Thanksgiving with us at a beach house in North Carolina. Most of the effort lied in keeping my mouth shut and letting her make the decision on her own, but it was effort all the same. In the end, she came.
I was so relieved. I’m always glad to have her company because she’s really nice to be around, but also relieved, because then I didn’t have to think about her at home, alone, on a holiday. When I think she’s in pain, I have an irrational urge to hover over her like a panther and mercilessly shred anyone who gets within five feet. This is totally unjustified, since she’s a competent adult, but it’s still there. So, we spent Thanksgiving at the beach house where I was able to indiscreetly hover and no one was the wiser. It was perfect. It’s always beautiful there and totally NOT Thanksgiving-like, which is exactly what we needed.
|We were in Corolla, NC.|
You can drive out on the beach anytime you like and see wild horses.
|This is the view from our deck.|
|This is the local lighthouse.|
|You can climb the lighthouse for a small fee (that becomes a large fee when multiplied by all the friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins). This is looking up the stairwell.|
|This is all the kids, except Ruslan who wanted to stay home with his grandma. Since, more than likely, I would have been the one to carry him up those stairs, I didn't press the issue.|
Anyway, once I saw that Thanksgiving was going well, I started planting the seeds about getting away for Christmas. We ended up at a ski resort, a perfectly rational Christmas plan, unless the resort is south of the Mason-Dixon. I’m a Yankee, and let me tell you, no one even THOUGHT about skiing in my hometown unless the weather was AT LEAST below 30 and no one went with enthusiasm unless it was below 20. Our first full day there, the high at our ski resort was 45 degrees. They had made “snow” the night before and they had two lifts open, but I was skeptical. On the plus side, the place was empty, on the minus side, we were looking at skiing on snow cones. In the end, Bill stayed back with our three youngest, while Maryann and I took the six older kids to ski on the slushy ice.
The boys all got snowboards and the girls got skis. Reilly, my eleven year old, cried and wailed all the way down her first run, telling me she hated it. Halfway down the second run, she caught on and I didn’t see her for the rest of the day. When it was time to go, I stood at the end of the run near the lift entrance where she could see me. She headed straight for me and about ten feet out, I thought she was going to plow right into my knees, but she did a perfect “S” curve and parallel parked two inches from my nose. If there had been anything similar to snow that day, she would have sprayed it in my face.
Matt and Paul were a different story. Have I mentioned that all the boys got snowboards? Paul, being a little smaller and more coordinated, was able to catch on OK. Matt, my oldest, didn’t take to it well at all. He’s 14 years old, but he hit a growth spurt and is now in size 17 clothes (with a size 14 butt, but that’s a different post). He spent most of the day on his teeny tiny butt. A few years ago, this would have sent him into a tizzy, but, now that he’s older, it all came out in fierce, targeted sarcasm. As we were going up the ski lift together, he went into considerably long streams of incidents where I clearly wronged him and usually ended with, “and now you’ve got me going down an ice-covered mountain strapped to a tid-bit of stick!” I finally told him to stop complaining or I would use his college fund to finance a visit to the spa.
About five hours in, Paul fell and hurt his wrist. I had been itching to try out those snow boards all morning, so I decided this was my chance. I got him some ice, made sure he was reasonably comfortable, convinced him that he was too injured to board any further and strapped on his clunky boots. Snowboarding is one of those sports that looks possible, until you get strapped in and then you realize what insanity it is. Matt went up the lift with me to “help.” As I was ignoring his instructions, I took a moment to take in the skiers (rather than the scenery) and noticed that there were no other females on snowboards. Then I noticed that, of the boys on boards, there were very few people over twenty and only one who looked over thirty. Putting these two observations together I realized there were NO OTHER middle aged women on snowboards! Could there be a reason for this?
I started thinking about those V8 commercials on TV where people have white rectangles over their heads indicating how many servings of vegetables they’ve had each day. Only, the rectangles I imagined had numbers designating the skiers/snowboarders IQ, or labels like, “too old for this,” “about to face-plant,” and “Aaaahhhh!!.”
We got to the end of the lift and I wiped out on the downramp. The rectangle over my sons head changed from, “annoyed” to “dreams come true” while mine started streaming obscenities. On a snowboard, there is no way to move your feet. If you are at all used to keeping yourself balanced with your legs, you have some adjustments to make. At first, I was making it OK. I’d go a few feet and then fall before I really got any momentum going. The trick was to fall on your fists, not your wrist or butt, which (legend told) is much more painful, especially on ICE. Unfortunately, I started getting better and working up some momentum and distance in between falls. In fact, I have to say, in defense of my own skill, that I did make it down the first half of the hill in reasonable form. I even had enough control to look around a little more and notice that a lot of my fellow boarders were made up largely of adolescent boys with somewhat blank, “1000 yard stare” expressions (and appropriately empty boxes over their heads). I asked Matt (who was, it’s only fair to note, behind me) whether that was a function or a prerequisite to snowboarding, but he didn’t seem to hear. His rectangle was back to “annoyed” and mine was “acquiring 1000 yard stare” (this is foreshadowing). As I was pondering this, I was getting better and better, with more and more momentum and then suddenly, I hit a little rise and I was airborne.
My feet went straight up, right in front of me, my arms went out to my sides, I hovered in mid air just long enough to think to myself, “This is bad, very, very --WHAM!! I landed right on my tailbone, on the ice. I’m 46, so it’s been several years since I landed on my tailbone. It’s just as painful as I remember. It took me a few seconds to get my bearings again. When I was coherent enough, I hit on the realization that the 1000 yard stare is not necessarily a requirement to snowboarding, since it will inevitably come with time. Normally, in one of my past lives, I would have jumped right up and kept on going down the hill (Death Before Defeat!), but as a testament to my age, my sanity or my ability to be taught, I caught on that the rectangle over my head was now flashing, “OSTEOPOROSIS.”
I unstrapped my snowboard and walked down the rest of the hill with my son sliding down beside me, just out of arms length, serenading me with taunts. I finally made it back to a bench and after a short rest, I went to find Paul and fight him for the ice pack. I ended up sitting on a pile of “snow” and walking around as though I was keeping a cantaloupe between my knees for the rest of the weekend.
The next day was Christmas. We opened presents, had a huge breakfast, observed the kids fighting, and settled down to unlimited TV for the morning. Then Bill, who had his fill of small children for the week, took the older kids to see a violent movie while Maryann and I took the younger, more well adjusted kids ice skating. If I hadn’t bruised my tailbone, I would have gone on the ice with them all, but I was terrified of falling again and losing my cantaloupe. This was probably better in the end. I shoved Ruslan, walker and all, out on the ice and immediately, someone came over and offered to help him and someone else helped with Will. They had a blast. Everyone was great with them.
Unfortunately, this is when everything suddenly hit me all at once. I don’t know if it was Ruslan, screaming with glee out on the ice, or Maryann and her kids, sort of drifting through the holiday, everyone missing Bruce, or the fact that my tailbone was KILLING me… whatever it was, I started to cry. I hate public crying. I did everything I could to stop it. I prayed. I bit my lip. I gritted my teeth and I tried to think about Oreos. Nevertheless, tears were just streaming down my face.
I know I was obvious because middle aged women started coming over to me, putting their hands on my shoulder and telling me how cute Ruslan was, what an inspiration it was to see him on the ice, how brave and happy he looked in his walker, how lucky I was to be his mother, and etc. I didn’t want to tell the truth and say, “Actually, he’s usually a pain in the ass and I’m crying about the pain in MY ass,” so I just kept my mouth shut, nodded sweetly and stayed as far away from Maryann as possible until I could pull my pathetic self together.
After dinner, Bill offered to watch the kids so Maryann and I could go out. We thought about going to the hot tubs, but if we did, I knew we’d just end up talking about Bruce and crying (again). Maryann hadn’t been to a movie theater since Bruce died so we decided to see a movie. Maryann said she could handle anything but a sappy romance. I was with her there. So, we ended up seeing, “We Bought a Zoo,” about a dad who, ironically enough, loses his wife and buys a zoo. Unfortunately, it is well done, well written and well acted. Whoever wrote that script …they get it. Do not see this movie without at least 50 tissues in your pockets, especially if you’re with your friend who has just lost her husband.
About half way through the movie, when everything is falling apart; the zoo is in trouble, the son is rebelling, the tiger dies, the dad is just in agony over his missing wife, and everyone in the audience realizes that 20th Century Fox is passing our souls through a cheese grater, Matt Damon (the dad) rather unexpectedly blurts out, “I thought if I came here, it would stop.” I knew exactly what he was talking about. If it seems like we were running scared over the holidays, that is because we were. By design, it was nothing like Christmas. We weren’t at home, we didn’t read the Christmas story, we didn’t have the Jesus birthday cake, no one freaked out over the evening meal, I didn’t over eat. For the adults, it was more something we were trying to get through or past. I want to write that God took away the pain of loss and that there is a balm in Gilead, but that’s not the way it is. There are some things that are just too hard to face head on and yet, no matter how hard or fast or far you run, it just. doesn’t. stop.